In a previous blog post I wrote about the equal need for both proclamation and demonstration as we live on mission with God.* However, living in word and deed as witnesses of Jesus Christ requires an equal need for grace and discipleship.
Discipleship is all the rage right now among Christianity. Look up any number of Christian conferences, journals, and blogs and it won’t take long to find something about discipleship. This is not too surprising as it has become more and more obvious that in general, Christianity in America is lacking in discipleship (with some notable exceptions). In fact, this is why I believe Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who coined the phrase “cheap grace,” remains ever so popular and relevant today — especially among ministers.
Discipleship, as I understand it, simply means learning to live our lives as Jesus lives his life. This is who followers of Jesus Christ are. While that seems simple to understand, it is a difficult challenge to live into. Part of this challenge involves learn to believe about God and life as Jesus believed and embrace the same values Jesus embraced. This is one area where preaching and teaching is resourceful. However, even though cognitive teaching is important to our development as disciples, we also learn through hands on practice. Thus learning to live as a disciple is like learning to become an electrician or pilot which involves both instruction and practice as a learning-apprentice.
Our call to live as a follower of Jesus and develop followers of Jesus is great but it’s impossible apart from grace. Following Jesus always begins with the invitation of Jesus, “follow me,” and is therefore an offer of grace. However, the offer of grace does not end there. Beginning with the coming of Jesus to his eventual dying on the cross for our sins to the sending of the Spirit who is our Advocate through whom we are sanctified and to the eventual second coming of Jesus, we are recipients of grace.
So discipleship must always be bathed in and pursued within a deep understanding of grace. While grace without discipleship becomes cheap grace, discipleship without grace becomes lends itself to legalism. Discipleship apart from grace is just as much of a distortion of God’s will as grace without discipleship. So as a church, we must always attune our eyes and ears towards both the grace of God in Christ as well as the call of God to live as disciples of Christ.
This is where we must remember that we don’t become disciples of Jesus to earn God’s approval and acceptance. Rather, we become disciples so that we can live the life God desires to bless us with as our Creator and Redeemer. When from the deep well of God’s grace we live as followers of Jesus, we are on our way to becoming a church that is both an attractive and committed community of Jesus followers.
* This is a slightly modified version of an article of the same title that I wrote and was published in Connecting 28 (March 6, 2013), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.